Despite having only just accustomed ourselves to the economical and societal changes instigated by digital technologies, the government and companies alike must now prepare themselves for the next big thing in technology; Artificial Intelligence (AI).
It is no secret that leaping into this unknown realm has sparked both fears and fantasies amongst data scientists. The diffusion of AI across industries will not only extend and accelerate the transformations initiated by the digital age, but will also give rise to new business models, new social practices and new organisational patterns, all of which are expected to have the ability to invert some of the negative trends caused by previous technological changes.
Not just a new technology
AI is not just a temporary trend. As was the internet in its time, AI is much more than just a new form of technology and will undoubtedly re-shape the world as we currently know it. The reason for this is that AI is the science of self-learning software algorithms, which perform tasks typically performed by humans as well as functions that the human brain cannot decipher. AI does not just generate predictions or guide human decisions, but is able to make critical choices, draw conclusions and take actions based on analysing data patterns and reasoning, without the need for human interference or any instruction. With its full potential not yet discovered, it is scary to consider the impact AI will have on the way we work and think… perhaps even eliminating the human workforce altogether.
There is currently widespread concern about the power of AI and fears of what is to come. These entail several nightmare scenarios in which the world is controlled by intelligent machines or that we end up living in an automatized world. This being said, if we are able to promote AI according to our fundamental social values, it is possible that it could be used as a stimulus to increase human prosperity and improve world equality.
AI as a game changer
There are three principal examples in which the benefits of AI look particularly promising: consumer power, the fight against monopolies and empowerment through work.
Firstly, if AI is applied correctly, companies will regain direct access to their consumers. Money will be directed towards goods and services again, rather than being spent on third-party commissions and data owners. For example, today we order taxis via platforms like Uber. But in the near future, we will each have our own AI assistant, which will connect to the closest taxis around us without our intervention. AI will also be able to check the fastest routes, accident rates and driver ratings, before making an informed decision and finally, ordering a taxi as well as paying the fare. What this means is that web-based platforms will gradually become inefficient and thus, disappear.
Secondly, there will be a re-shuffling of the global monopolies. Currently, GAFA (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple) and the Chinese BAT (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent) seem to have dominated every facet of our lives. But with world data doubling every day and the creation of new devices which are less dependent on data input, it is likely that GAFA and BAT will lose their current status.
Machine learning is one of the first forms of AI and one that GAFA makes use of. However, it is not the only form. In the same way that a child does not need to be shown several dogs in order to apprehend what a dog is, machines will also be able to learn rapidly. Therefore, it is very probable that today’s digital giants will be unsettled by new players, just as they themselves disrupted companies such as Microsoft and Nokia a decade ago.
Finally, we will witness a complicated period of transformation during which jobs will be eradicated by digital technologies, causing major issues for politics and the economy. Having said this, if we prepare for this change in a clever way, we may enter a new ‘golden age’ of work. Whether or not robots carry out repetitive tasks, nannies, actors and hairdressers will still be in demand. Their jobs provide as service for which others are willing to pay, whilst creating a sense of satisfaction to the consumer and recognition to the employees. So, the likelihood of having intelligent machines take over will change the nature of work, but its role in a well-functioning society will probably not.
So how do we prepare?
It is essential that we encourage the progress of AI in our societies through investments in education, infrastructure and funding, rather than relying on monopolies to develop it. In fact, the majority of today’s AI experts would prefer to conduct independent research and start their own businesses instead of working for global giants. It is also important that financial support, the freedom to operate and extensive resources are readily available, as not to drive them back into the arms of GAFA.
We must begin to visualise the future we want and actively shape it. Regulations will be vital if we wish to control the power and possible domination of machines one day. But at the same time, allowing citizens to access new technologies will be inevitable, especially for the wellbeing and the advancement of modern societies.